Apex Marine applies for oyster farm in the Marlborough Sounds
An oyster farming business could be branching out into seaweed, as it launches a challenge to environmental rules in the Marlborough Sounds.
Apex Marine put in a bid earlier this year to alter the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan, to install a 15-hectare oyster and seaweed marine farm.
The company has applied to produce 13 different types of seaweed, including giant kelp, sea lettuce and wakame, along with flat oysters.
If Apex Marine's proposal goes ahead Onapua Bay, close to Tory Channel, will be rezoned to allow aquaculture there.
The council's resource management plan is already under scrutiny, with the Ministry for Primary Industries proposing to change the document to relocate up to six New Zealand King Salmon farms.
Marine Farming Association executive officer Graeme Coates said Apex Marine was "probably just thinking ahead" and it was common for marine farmers to apply for consent to farm a variety of species, in case the market changed in the future.
Some mussel farmers already harvested algae on their nets, despite it not being on the terms of their consents. Seaweed could be used for a variety of purposes, including fertilisers, Coates said.
"The growing trend is to harvest it for food products."
Marine farmer Micky Norton said as far as he knew, he was the only certified seaweed farmer in the Marlborough Sounds.
He had farmed kelp since 1985 at his farm in Tory Channel, and he then turned it into fertiliser for the grape industry.
Apex Marine owner and Aquaculture NZ chairman Bruce Hearn declined to comment on Apex Marine's proposal.
Council environmental policy manager Pere Hawes said the council's planning, finance and community committee had asked for more information from the company.
The company recently asked the council for the request to be put on hold, which might allow the issue to be dealt with through the Marlborough Environment Plan's new aquaculture chapter - but it was up to the committee to decide.
Three separate resource consents had been lodged, for an area totalling 15.73ha.
Apex Marine's application said establishing the farm would mean the marine farm could separate oysters by age and therefore reduce the risk of bonamia, a parasite which could be lethal to oysters.
"There was an outbreak of this parasite in Marlborough in early 2015 and, as a result, the industry faced mass mortalities and export restrictions to two countries," the application said.
Growing seaweed would "counter the emerging threat of ocean acidification in the local area".
Other reasons cited for the farms included reducing methane emissions from farmed sheep and cattle, by using algae farmed at the site as a supplement to animal feeds.
"Oyster farming at this site will not restrict the ability of future generations to choose how to meet their needs.
"If future generations decide that their needs are better met by having aquaculture occur somewhere else, the structures could be removed from Onapua Bay and, within months, all trace of the farms being at the site will disappear," the application said.
- The Marlborough Express